It is hardly past seven a.m., but every living creature is already seeking shade and breeze. I pause quickly by the front gate, before venturing out into the world; I feel like a lion about to leave the zoo cage and parade in front of the popcorn-munching audience, awaiting for me to perform a foreign trick or two.
The dusty dirt road to Chawama centre is not too trying. People here know me already; in fact, they know everything about me. They know I'm a teacher; they know I don't go to church, but sit on the porch and drink beer; that the lights in my bedroom go off early, and that I do my laundry on Saturday mornings. They know, and yet I know nothing of most of them. A crackly old radio plays a current pop hit, and a little boy of about two plays in the dirty gutter, dancing, unashamed, to the tune. He sees me, and waves, tentatively. I smile and wave back; his face beams and he waves back, frantically.
I'm the third person on the bus, and patiently take my seat and wait for the bus to fill up. The commotion of the entire village seems to have centered around my bus. A woman chooses chickens from a tiny wired cage. She sucks her thumb and points at the three fattest ones. The vendor picks up each, non-plussed, breaking their wings and making their nervous cooing cease as they accept their destiny. I zone out during the ride in, and gaze out of the dirty, greasy window. Chawama Business Communications Centre, a sign declares, and underneath, almost as an afterthought, a small scribble: Also relish sold here. The bus pulls up to the hectic Soweto market, and I fiddle with my mp3 player, swapping the calm morning music to something angrier, louder. I pick Beck, I pick PJ Harvey, I pick Franz Ferdinand. I step out, over a pile of rubbish and accidentally kick a plastic bottle. It rolls underneath the next bus entering the station, and pops loudly. I negotiate my way to the main street; the place is buzzing. Anyone in not constant movement on the market road to Kanyama is annihilated. A huge human domino rolls on; a few cab drivers, same guys each morning, shout something at me, but the music drowns it out, and I disappear further into the swarming mass of noise, sweat and dust.
A man with a wheelbarrow filled with wilted green vegetable, rebs, is pushing past the pedestrians, cutting them like weeds; a woman with a basket on her head and a regal posture steps past me. Every last of my senses is assaulted, the screeching breaks, the smelly dried kapenta fish, the colourful market stands. I pause down for a second, letting a car pass, uncomfortably close, a woman steps in front of me, look my sister, what a beautiful chitenge, I make you a good price. I try to smile, but it comes out as a grimace. Another wheelbarrow, with planks of wood sticking to each direction; a second-hand underwear stall; a scrawny child staring at me, under his brow. I try to walk quicker, I can feel the sun on my neck. Another minibus, the driver literally hanging outside, chanting the destination's name. A man with gumboots for sale, so close to the roadside that cars nearly run over them; I step into the stalls, then almost to the middle of the road to let another wheelbarrow past, negotiating my way in this complicated dance only I know steps to.
And suddenly I'm there, I take a steep turn to the left, gather my skirts and hop over a gutter and I'm there, inside the relative early morning calmness of our centre. I open the door to my tiny little concrete office and switch off angry PJ, until I need her again that afternoon.
Some photos of the road and the vendors along the way in Kanyama, and around City Market